The specific topic weighing on my mind tonight is the objectification of women. Not porn actresses or movie stars, but real women on the street. Sex addicts often look (or rather gawk, gape, ogle, stare…) at regular women who happen to be unlucky enough to walk across their path, then objectify, fantasize and masturbate or act out in other ways. Sometimes it stays there, but other times it leads to flashing, stalking, rape, or other forms of sexual assault. That type of activity is out of control and harmful.
My ex was in construction for a while. He would watch women walking down the street on the job site and talk to other men about it in explicit detail. Often times he would go to the porta-potty and jack off while thinking of them. Sometimes he might even do it right there in the vehicle while they were walking by just a few feet away. I wonder if anyone ever saw him or felt awkward and uncomfortable and picked up their pace. I know the sensation of having unwelcome eyes on you, inching over your body. I wonder how many women my ex made feel dirty and creeped out. I felt that and more when I caught his gaze lingering too long on a woman’s body.
Right before we got married (maybe 2 months before, tops), we had our worst fight. We were in a new country bar in our city with a few of his friends. It was maybe the second time I’d ever been to a nightclub before – this place had a DJ, huge areas just set up for dancing upstairs and down, several bars on the outskirts, and a mechanical bull in the front. That’s usually not my scene. That night he started blatantly making sexual gestures and comments about women, right in front of me, with no regard to my feelings whatsoever. His facial expressions and lewd manner set me off. It’s one thing to notice attractive people, that’s only natural no matter how much you love your partner. It’s a completely different thing to be crude about it, and continue the behavior when you can see the person you’re with is uncomfortable.
I made a comment to him about it, then stormed away. In true narcissistic sociopath fashion, he wouldn’t let me get away. He came after me, dragged me off of the dance floor (where I had joined a group of women line dancing to blow off some steam and pretend he didn’t exist). I tried to walk away and go downstairs to the ground floor of the club (we were upstairs on a balcony area), and he cornered me, trying to intimidate me and tell me that I hadn’t seen what I had just seen.
I told him that he was being disrespectful, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. He kept putting his hands on me, grabbing my arms, wrenching me around, getting in my face. He said that I saw things wrong, that he was checking women out for his friend, that he was just fantasizing about the women he was ogling, he wasn’t going to do anything, and that I needed to come back and hang out with him. His excuses were contradictory and insulting. I didn’t want to hear them. I tried to jerk away several times, and he would grab me again, tighter. I was spitting mad. When I get like that, I also cry. I hate that about myself sometimes. We must have been making enough of a scene that someone got a bouncer to come up. They dragged him off of me, and I was able to make my escape while he turned his arguments and justifications that he wasn’t doing anything wrong onto them. Thankfully, they didn’t buy it, and kept him away from me.
I remember walking downstairs and out of the club. I stood just outside of the building looking at the line of people trying to get in. I had been drinking that night, my emotions were out of control, and I was shaking. I leaned back against the building trying to get myself together and breathe. I might have been hyperventilating a little bit. I don’t know how long I stood there, just sucking in air. My mind was blank. I might have been in shock a little bit because he hadn’t gotten physical like that with me before.
Finally, I started walking back toward the parking deck where my car was parked. The city has these cobble stone sidewalks, and I focused on carefully placing my feet on the uneven ground to keep myself from breaking down into tears again. It was only a few blocks, and the weather was nice. It was the summer of 2010, somewhere between April when we got engaged and September when we got married. There were so many happy people on the streets, laughing, holding hands, and doing stupid drunken things. I tried to focus on them, not what just happened. It’s all a bit of a blur, though.
When I got to the parking deck I turned on the car, cranked up the air conditioning and the radio and just sat there. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared out the windshield at the concrete walls. The entire time my phone had been going off. I could have texted him back, but I don’t really remember. I do know that he called me. I don’t recall what he said, but I distinctly remember two of his friends in the background yelling and cussing and calling me names. I got out of the car and started pacing, crying again. I was so hurt and angry that he was letting them talk about me that way, and agreeing. I asked him why he was letting his friends talk for him, didn’t he have a mind of his own? In hindsight, I shouldn’t have engaged at all.
Next thing I knew, he was at the car. His friends didn’t come along, so maybe he told them he was going to “handle me.” Who knows…? Not me. He started yelling at me again, immediately. He got right back in my face, grabbing my wrist and upper arm. I tried to push him away, and his face contorted with rage. He pushed me as hard as he could, and I fell back against the car. I banged my arm, scuffed my knee, and twisted my ankle. My tears of anger turned to tears of pain. I paused and took a deep breath, assessing my injuries, which were relatively minor. I tried to get myself composed, hating the feeling that things were spiraling even faster out of control.
Then he came at me again. I felt a primal instinct to attack that I had never felt before and never have since. I launched myself at him, a sound that was half scream, half growl coming out of my throat. I kicked at him and swung, my hand connecting with his jaw. He grabbed my wrist and twisted hard, then pinned me against the car. I know I was yelling, telling him to get off of me. The noise must have caught someone’s attention.
Two officers showed up. They separated us. One took me to the other side of my car, where I nearly collapsed, shaking and sobbing, but trying to pull myself together. The other walked him a few yards away, and had a conversation. The officer asked if I was okay, I told him I was. He said that someone had complained about the fighting, and it looked like there might have been some violence involved. To this day I don’t know why, but I down-played it. He asked if I had someone who could come pick me up because I wasn’t in any state to drive. I told him that I did – that I could call my sister.
My key was still in my car, and it was still running from earlier. I asked if I could just sit there for a second to gather myself. He said yes, then he stayed there while I called my sister and asked her to come get me. She was so great. It was late – at least midnight – and I told her where I was, and asked if she could pick me up. She said yes, and asked me how to get there. I gave her really bad directions (I told her the wrong exit accidentally because I was so shaken up). She asked where Chris was. I told her he was with his friends, and left it at that. She didn’t ask any more questions.
In the meantime, I heard Chris with the other officer. It sounded like he was blaming me for the whole thing (of course). They asked if he could find a ride somewhere, and told him not to go to my house that night. He must have said okay, and they let him walk away. Not 5 minutes after he sauntered away all cocky and self-assured, I got another text from him. Then he called again. More yelling and name-calling in the background and from him. That time he told me the police told him that HE could press charges against ME since he was bleeding from where I hit his lip and I wasn’t. He made it seem like he was doing me a big favor. I hung up on him and just sat there in my car staring at the concrete again, rubbing my arms and wrists where they were still stinging and throbbing from his grip.
My sister finally showed up. She called me when she was close (after she got lost taking the wrong exit). I walked out to the corner to meet her. I got in her car, and she drove me home. By that point I had gathered myself enough to stop crying. I had grabbed a light cardigan or jacket from my trunk, I think. I had it wrapped tightly around me like I had a chill, even though it was a warm night. She didn’t really talk much on the way to my house. I thanked her, walked inside like a drone, and turned off my phone.
That night I couldn’t even bear to sleep in my bed. The bed he usually slept in with me. I couldn’t handle his scent or the idea that his head had just been there. I grabbed a blanket and laid down on the couch. I cried. I was in a state of semi-shock, just staring at the blue numbers on the Comcast box for hours and hours. I watched the red marks on my arms darken and turn into bruises. I couldn’t sleep.
Somewhere around 4 am I turned my phone on again. I had numerous voicemails from him. Some were the drunken, angry ones with his friends calling me a stupid bitch in the background. A few were more pathetic and apologetic. Those sounded like they were made from outside somewhere. He had texted me that he was staying at his friend’s house. The friend who I couldn’t really stand that he was “checking out the girls for.” Along with the other ass who had been screaming at me.
By 6 am he had called and texted some more. I actually answered. He begged me to come pick him up. He said he was so sorry. Whatever. I’m sure you can all write the script if you’ve seen any bad Lifetime movie. The really sad thing is that I bought it. I agreed. I got into his vehicle, drove to his friend’s house, and he snuck out the back while the other two were still sleeping. He got in the SUV with me, and we went to pick up my car from the parking garage. I don’t even know if I spoke to him during that ride. He may have started to talk and make excuses, but I just cut him off.
When we got to the parking deck where my car was, I pulled into another lot right next to it, parked, and told him that I was ready to talk. I showed him the newly developing bruises. He looked stricken. He looked like hell in general. He had bags under his eyes, his lip was a little puffy, and his hair was sticking up in 50 different directions. I told him that I cannot and will not tolerate the behavior that he displayed the night before (even as I was tolerating it by allowing him back into my life in any capacity).
He kept saying he was sorry for hurting me, but stuck to his guns that he didn’t do anything wrong before, that I shouldn’t have gotten upset with him blatantly ogling other women in front of me like a total perv (my words, of course), and that he had eyes and was going to notice other women. I said, yeah… but you don’t have to make faces and gestures and obviously point them out and objectify them right in front of me. Noticing and behaving in a over the top, offensive way are two totally different things.
We went around and around like that for I don’t know how long. Somehow the violence was completely disregarded. He still made it seem like I was the aggressor and he was the one doing me a favor by not pressing charges. I don’t know how I bought that bullshit. I’m a strong woman. I know about domestic abuse. Just like cheating, I had told myself if a man put his hands on me that would be it, the end. But it seemed so subtle in that moment, with the blur of the night before still making me dizzy, and his justifications and excuses pounding in my ears… He didn’t mean to grab me so hard, he was just angry when I tried to push him away, I was the one who pushed first, he just pushed me back, I happened to fall against the car because of my heels, I was the one who hit him, and on and on it went.
I do vividly remember telling him that if that was the way he felt, if he thought what he did was okay and he didn’t see anything wrong with his actions, then we should just call the whole thing off. In my mind I was planning how to let people know that the wedding wasn’t going to happen. We had already sent invitations, so it would be embarrassing, but I couldn’t live like that. I told him that I wanted someone who would love me and treasure me and only want ME. We already had disclosures of his cheating, secret porn use (while he rejected me), and lying about strip clubs. This leering at women who were in the same room as me was something new, though. That and the violence had me emotionally overwhelmed. My face was splotchy and red and puffy from sobbing, my voice was hoarse from yelling the night before, and most of all, my entire spirit felt crushed. I wanted out.
I have looked back at that moment, in that car, over and over and over again. How I wish I had followed through. Or not even gone to pick him up. There are times I have fantasized about getting out of that car, walking to mine, and driving home to change the locks. I would have still been broken and emotionally and physically bruised, but I wouldn’t have been married to him. There still would have been things to divide up and pride to swallow and therapy, but the next 2 1/2 years of torture wouldn’t have happened. We all know that I didn’t do that, though.
Seeing how serious I was, he backtracked. He told me that he would never do anything like that “for his friends” again. He swore up and down that he wouldn’t lay a hand on me ever. He said that he loved me and couldn’t imagine his life without me. He told me that I was the only woman for him, the only person he wanted. He begged me to still marry him. I don’t think I answered right then. I did get in my car and drive home, but I let him follow me.
Over the next few days I let him apologize and tenderly touch my bruises with a look of contrition on his face. I listened to him swear off drinking. I let him tell me how his friend egged him on, and how he was never going to talk to one of them again. He also swore that the other friend wasn’t the one calling me names, that he tried to calm him down. He blamed the alcohol. He blamed his one friend. He blamed his anger for getting out of control. He stopped blaming me directly, but there was always a certain air about him, a haughtiness that would flicker over his face and quickly disappear. That was the sociopath showing itself, gleeful at pulling the whole thing off. Back then I mistook that for resentment over his lip (which he made sure to play up).
That example is an extreme one. I didn’t even intend to share it when I started writing. However, it’s just one scenario of how out of control his behavior got. The objectification of women, the justification, the blaming, the violence, the escalating pattern… From that point forward he tried to be much more subtle about checking out other women in front of me. I recently came across a picture from a work convention that he attended with me about 6 months after we were married, just before the last affair discovery. In the photo, I am talking to a colleague at the table with me, and he is standing behind me staring at a woman at the bar with a pervy smirk on his face. The corporate photographer, snapping pictures of the room, obviously happened to catch that particular moment on film. I’m not sure why it surprised me when I saw it this week while looking through photos on the company website to see if I could find a good head shot. For a moment I wondered if he actively pursued anyone at that convention when I was in meetings and seminars. Then I realized that it doesn’t matter.
In retrospect, I don’t really know how I coped with it. I think I internalized it a lot. Seeing him objectify women and knowing that he would jack off to thoughts of other people and think of those fantasies while having sex with me (which he disclosed later), made me feel less than and insignificant. He told me that he just “didn’t have” that issue anymore once I discovered things. I call bullshit on that. I know that he lied to me all of the time. There is no way for me to know how often he lied or what about.
I do know that it really damaged my image of myself. I grew up the ugly duckling, and he made it obvious that I still was because I wasn’t even enough for my boyfriend/fiance/husband. Finding my own self-worth outside of men is still a struggle for me, but I’m trying. I am shocked when people say that they find me beautiful. Honestly and truly stunned. Then, for a little while, I feel wanted and good and sexy. The doubts and issues start to creep back in, though. My own adolescence plays a part, as does the bullying in school, but my ex emotionally scarred me deeply. The bruises faded, but the memory of that night probably never will. I still feel shame and guilt and a touch of nausea when I think about it. And no matter how much I tell myself otherwise, there is still nagging doubt that maybe it was all my fault. Maybe I was being unreasonable in expecting him not to gawk at other women. He’s a man, right? Isn’t that supposed to be expected? The real question is, should it be?
That night wasn’t the only incident of him checking out other women in front of me. It happened all of the time, even if you don’t count all of the hidden porn discoveries. Each incident wore on me, carving the message that I wasn’t enough deeper and deeper into my subconscious. He would deny, say I was imagining things, tell me I am jealous and blowing things out of proportion, and that “every man” does that. Somehow I doubt that every man jacks off to women who are walking down the street in a porta-potty at work or in his car 5 feet away, but I digress. Even without the violence, what he did to me and to those unwitting women is wrong. Plain and simple.
A friend of mine has a tattoo that says “I am enough.” More and more that is sounding like a brilliant idea. For now, I try to tell myself that as much as possible. I am beautiful. I am worthy. I do not need the validation of a man. I am enough. You are, too. No matter what has happened to you, what you have been through, or who has told you that you are not.